Pieces Of April


Directed by: Peter Hedges
Written by:Peter Hedges
Starring: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes, Alison Pill
Released: March 4, 2004
Grade: A-

Pieces Of April is a wonderful low-budget piece built around a touching story.  Director and writer Peter Hedges tried hard to get Hollywood funding but no studios were forthcoming.  Unwilling to relent, Hedges managed to pull $300,000 together and shot the film in two weeks using digital cameras.  There’s no big name stars, top-notch sets or smooth visual effects to sucker audiences here.  All Hedges has to rely upon is the story and thankfully, he delivers.

It’s Thanksgiving but not a time for celebration for the Burns family.  42-year-old Joy Burns (Clarkson) has terminal cancer.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Jim (Platt), daughter Beth and son Timmy.  Deep down the kids know this will be the last Thanksgiving they will spend with their mother.

There’s one regret Joy has and it concerns her eldest daughter, April (Holmes).  They have never seen eye to eye and now the rebellious April lives in New York with her latest boyfriend (Luke).  Against the strong wishes of other family members, Joy has decided to go to New York for Thanksgiving in a final attempt to make peace.

April sees the same opportunity and is trying heartedly to produce a Thanksgiving feast.  She’s got her mum’s turkey recipe and a few other special treats to impress the reluctant family.  And then, the stove breaks down.  There’s no way to cook the turkey and she’s stressfully banging on neighbouring apartment stores looking for someone to help out.  She knows there’s a lot at stake.

The film follows both April’s dinner preparation and Joy’s road trip with equal times spent on each in a rather short film (just 81 minutes).  Peter Hedges is no stranger to writing a good script having previously adapted What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and About A Boy for the big screen.  He keeps things light in the film’s first half with some unexpectedly great one-liners (particularly from Patricia Clarkson).  Towards the later stages, the film enters its more dramatic phase with a fitting conclusion.  Without revealing more, I was pleased at what point Hedges chose to end the film.  There was no need to draw it out.

Is there a fitting adjective to describe Patricia Clarkson?  She received her first Oscar nomination for this role (lost to Renee Zellweger) and is thoroughly deserving of it.  Clarkson is a darling of the independent film circuit and I am continually applauding her work.  A good film with a small paycheck is always preferred to a bad film with a large paycheck.  I’ve actually now seen her four times in the last seven months on the big screen – the other films being Dogville, The Station Agent and All The Real Girls.

Once again I plead with you to find your way to this film.  You may have to sift through your newspaper to find where it’s showing but the extra effort will pay dividends.